Apr 3, 2007

The fair trade question

There's an interesting article with commentary here at BBC News, on whether fair trade is really "fair," i.e., whether it's doing any good, whether it will ultimately damage things more than it helps, etc. Since I like to buy fair trade on principle whenever possible (like with jewelry components, and I generally prefer hand-made items over mass-produced ones), and to do other things consistent with similar principles, like buying fibers from people who treat their animals like family ;D, it seems mildly related to my crafting habit...

The bottom line of the "oppose fair trade" argument seems to be based on assuming bad things will necessarily come of fair trade, when those things can't really be predicted and doesn't seem all that reasonable. It's the same sort of argument that some people use for why you shouldn't feed wildlife: it'll get dependent on you, and what will happen when people stop feeding it? Well, its instincts -- which it still uses, by the by, to feed itself when in fact it isn't snacking on your front porch -- will kick back in and it'll survive on its own. If it doesn't, it probably wouldn't have anyway. That happens; some things survive and others don't. And still, feeding animals isn't inherently the same thing as domesticating them, and feeding feral/stray domestics that act like they needneedneed you isn't the same thing as feeding actual wildlife, which still looks at you funny if you get too close. [There are, of course, more valid arguments for why you shouldn't feed wildlife, but this is a silly one. ;)]

Likewise, giving poor farmers a bit more money than they'd get otherwise doesn't mean that you're ruining them for the future and they suddenly won't have any market survival instincts -- on the off chance that what? Fair trade suddenly disappears? Since fair trade is specifically designed to give people a safety net if the market drops suddenly, it can't be "if the market drops." It is possible, however remotely, that the fair trade market could disappear entirely, but if it does that, I think the rest of the Western-dependent market (which is, by the way, a large portion of the entire world ;)) will be going through some interesting upheaval and everyone will have things to worry about. And it still won't be fair trade's fault that things are bad for poor farmers. And if someone doesn't survive on their own after a change in the market, it isn't intrinsically the fault of one stabilizing element from before the change. Neither casually feeding wildlife nor fair trade will suddenly cause the ecosystem/market to drastically change toward famine, and no matter what fearful or negative people like to say or believe, neither one is so dramatic of a change in lifestyle that it robs the assisted beings of their ability to subsist and adapt on their own if the ecosystem/market does change. If some individuals do become dependent, well, a lot of Western people do that unnecessarily ("I need my coffee in the morning!" "I need a girlfriend!"), and it still isn't the fault of the thing they become dependent on. Fair trade is not a true addictive substance, although it is a rather pleasant experience. ;)

Anyway, /rant off. I just thought I'd post that link here for my own personal reference, since this blog is, ultimately, for my personal reference. ;)

Oh, and World Fair Trade Day is May 12.
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